The 9 Best Gourmet Chocolates to Buy Right Now
My apologies to Forrest Gump, but the saying really should be “A box of chocolates is a lot like life—you never know what you’re going to get.” With so many different chocolate companies offering up boxes upon boxes of their wares, it can be hard to even know where to start. Your choice may be dependent on the flavors you like, the flavors the recipient likes (if you’re gifting), the occasion, and even your level of risk (there’s a lot of weird chocolate on the market now). Thankfully, my colleagues and I were willing to do the hard work of tasting loads and loads of chocolate in a conference room to make your life a little bit easier. In pursuit of the best chocolate in every category—from white to dark, fruit-flavored to caramel, and everything in between—these are the brands we’ve deemed to be the crème de la crème of cacao. Proceed with caution, because eating one single piece can quickly snowball into sampling the entire assortment.
Our Best Chocolate Brand Selections
Best Overall Chocolate
When I revealed these chocolates to my colleagues, they literally applauded. Thierry Atlan, who became a Meilleur Ouvrier de France Chocolatier in 1997, has crafted stunning pieces of chocolate that taste as good as they look. These were the consensus favorites among our staff, all of whom have varying tastes and preferences. The smooth texture is complemented by delicate, not-too-sweet flavors, including the likes of lime yuzu caramel and jasmine tea, among more standard combinations. The “little box of jewels,” as one of my colleagues called it, is simply magnifique.
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Best Milk Chocolate
Whether a chocoholic or not, anyone should be happy to receive a box of zChocolat, especially if it contains the company’s milk-chocolate pieces. The classic version uses a 40 percent West African milk chocolate, wrapped around both caramel and praline. But it also appears in bonbons featuring hazelnuts, pistachios, raspberry ganache, and more. And while the pieces themselves are delicious, the presentation sets zChocolat apart from all other brands. You can choose to have your chocolates sent in a mahogany box with the recipient’s name engraved on the front and their initials embossed in the wax seal atop the wrapping (along with a suite of other gift services). More than just some chocolates you enjoy and then forget about, zChocolat is basically a keepsake—one with the instant gratification that a box of chocolates provides.
Best Dark Chocolate
La Maison du Chocolat
Sometimes, you get a box of chocolates and you wish that the pieces were just a touch smaller—so that you can eat more of them at once. La Maison du Chocolat solves that problem, creating delicate, minimalistic chocolates that are the Goldilocks pick when it comes to size. That means the box can contain pairs of the same chocolate, great for those who want to share a particular flavor or simply double-down on it. You’ll likely opt for the latter if you’re a fan of dark chocolate, as La Maison has the best we tried. The rich, high-quality chocolate has a smooth texture, whether it’s paired with an almond and hazelnut praline or a dark chocolate ganache with passionfruit pulp. Best of all, fans can go big with an 84-piece box of just dark chocolate.
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Best White Chocolate
Most chocolate lovers have heard the name Jacques Torres before. In fact, the company’s website notes that Torres is affectionately known as “Mr. Chocolate.” As such, you can best believe they make a great stand-by chocolate, presented in an Hermès-esque box. In particular, we loved the company’s white-chocolate bonbons, especially the Love Bug (key-lime ganache enrobed in silky white chocolate, with a sweet little drawing on top). Unfortunately, there are only a few white chocolate pieces in each general assortment, and you can’t buy a whole box of just white chocolate. Thankfully, though, Jacques Torres sells an entire bar of the good stuff.
Best Belgian Chocolate
Belgian chocolate is some of the best in the world, and none do it better than Neuhaus, which has been making its chocolate in the European country since 1857. In particular, Neuhaus is perfect for the person who likes some variety: The company’s ballotins come with a whopping 42 pieces of chocolate, spanning fresh cream, praline (which the company invented, NBD), ganache, and gianduja-filled. The flavors lean more toward the classics, rather than any adventurous combinations, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The list of options was too long for some of our staff, but can you really have too much chocolate?
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Best Sea-Salt Caramels
Most boxes of chocolate are likely to include at least one or two caramel options. But for the true caramel lover, you can’t do much better than Fran’s. The company’s gray salt caramels (dipped in dark chocolate) and smoked salt caramels (wrapped in milk chocolate) are like a better Milky Way, as one of my colleagues put it (without the nougat, though). The caramel isn’t too sweet and it meshes beautifully with the delicate chocolate coating.
Best Peanut-Butter Chocolates
For the Reese’s lovers among us, John Kelly’s chocolates provide an upscale take on the candy classic. The pieces are enormous and extremely rich, thanks to what the company calls its “truffle fudge,” technically a fudge but with the consistency of ganache. In peanut-butter form, this means you get a creamy, nut-forward center, with a smaller coating of chocolate that really lets the filling shine. The flavor combination and texture are a bit reminiscent of something you might find in a seaside fudge shop, but the quality makes John Kelly’s chocolates a tad more special.
Most Adventurous Chocolates
Vosges Haut-Chocolat is not for those seeking your typical milk or dark chocolate filled with ganache or caramel. Vosges is for the adventurous eaters among us. The flavors are strong and quirky: You might choose a piece featuring organic Wakaya ginger, freshly grated wasabi, 72 percent cacao dark chocolate, and ceremonial matcha (the Black Pearl). Or one with Bulgarian rose water, pistachio paste, 45 percent cacao deep milk chocolate, dried rose-bud tea, and Bronte pistachio (the Sveta Sofia). The flavors are all inspired by founder Katrina Markoff’s travels, so if you can’t splurge on an entire trip, these chocolates might be the next best thing.
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Best Fruit-Flavored Chocolate
Some people think that fruit and chocolate should have nothing to do with each other. But for those who like a little tang and sweetness, the Beverly Hills–based andSons Chocolatier is making delectable fruit-forward bonbons. With flavors like passion-fruit caramel, hibiscus honey, double yuzu, and PB&J, you’ll find a veritable produce basket in every box. Many of the fruits are acquired from farmers’ markets, so you can expect extremely high-quality ingredients, and the Huntington Tea Caramel and Huntington Orange even use citrus from the Huntington Museum.
What makes something a gourmet or fine chocolate?
Obviously, the chocolate itself has to be high quality, made from the finest cacao beans. But beyond that, the filling of a gourmet or fine chocolate usually leaves out preservatives and artificial flavors, instead using natural ingredients. This is why you’ll often see the ingredients listed with an origin, such as Vosges’ Bulgarian rose water. The reliance on organic and fresher components means that the chocolates themselves are a bit less shelf-stable than your grocery-store Russell Stover, but the taste differential is quite dramatic. And the top-shelf ingredients also lend themselves to top-shelf prices, with gourmet chocolates averaging out at $2 apiece.
What are the different types of chocolates and fillings?
Besides the difference between milk and dark—which is mainly about the percentage of cocoa solids they contain—there are several different types of bonbons and truffles. (Plus white chocolate, which actually contains no cocoa solids at all). In the assortments we tried, the fillings were varied, but some of the most common were buttercream, praline, and ganache. Buttercream is a mix of butter and sugar, flavored with a whole host of liquid extracts. Praline uses some sort of caramelized nut, usually hazelnuts or almonds, that is ground into a paste. And ganache is a smooth mixture of chocolate and cream. Particularly varied boxes will contain a combination of all these, while some companies may opt to stick to one particular formulation.
How did we choose and categorize the chocolates on this list?
My colleagues were more than gracious enough to take some time out of their day to taste-test copious amounts of chocolate. That ensured we had a panel of people with different palates and preferences. All of us graded each brand on a number of factors, including appearance, texture, flavor, and variety. We cut many chocolates into even smaller bite-size pieces so that more than one person could try the same flavor, or so that one person could try several flavors without making themselves sick. Along with our scorecards, we discussed the different brands as we tasted, noting factors that can’t come across in a simple number grading system. Of course, everyone’s tastes will vary, so take that into consideration when purchasing, but this is what we honestly thought of every brand presented here.
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